Surrogacy – redux April 27, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Breda O’Brien was talking, coincidentally – given this post put up the week before last here, about surrogacy again. It’s strange. Bioethics is like catnip to me. In part because I have a passing acquaintance with some aspects of it, but perhaps more so because it so indelibly seems to be the future, like it or not. Anyhow, surrogacy… Using the Father Reynolds case as a hook with which to impale RTÉ for ‘bias’ she asserts:
There is a strong sense of mission in RTÉ, a desire to hold institutions and individuals to account, and to effect positive change. However, if a team becomes convinced they know the best “way forward” and are doing society a service by nudging it in that direction, the danger is that fundamental journalistic standards will be flouted.
I believe there is a “liberal bias” in RTÉ, although I prefer to call it an “illiberal bias”. True liberalism defends the expression of ideas with which it does not agree.
There is also a liberal bias in this paper. The difference is The Irish Times makes this clear, and people who buy it know what they are getting. RTÉ, as a public service broadcaster, has a very different remit. I would like to think people also buy this paper because it does its job well, and by and large, reports events fairly and accurately. RTÉ also does a very fine job with limited resources.
So she gives an example:
Even when potential problems are pointed out, RTÉ does not change. On a recent Prime Time programme on surrogacy, I said I would not appear as someone opposing surrogacy after a package full of beautiful babies, and grieving mothers who could not regularise their children’s situation, unless the package also tackled the serious ethical and moral dilemmas of surrogacy.
My request was ignored. Miriam O’Callaghan referred on air to the package as “positive towards surrogacy”. I was given four uncontested minutes to redress the emotional priming of the nine-minute package, followed by an interview with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, who intends to legislate for surrogacy. This was considered balance. Not so much Prime Time, as “priming time”.
A number of thoughts are raised by this. Firstly O’Brien is coy about her own position. That ‘people might know what they are getting’ she might note in the article that she is no disinterested observer on these matters but is in fact a member of the Iona Institute, a socially (and to some degree economically) right of centre Catholic entity. No disgrace there, but something that should be made clear from the off. And it’s not as if she didn’t have an opportunity to do so. She says the following:
Valid points were made in the “package” preceding the studio discussion, such as when commentator David Quinn said Fr Reynolds was “fortunate” to have been accused of a crime which could be scientifically disproved, that is, of fathering a child. Had it been “merely” rape, there would have been no chance of reclaiming his good name.
David Quinn is, of course, another member of the Iona Institute.
Secondly, and in a way this is a more serious issue, she posits the concept of ‘balance’. But she, of all people, should know, as was noted here the week before last, the single best appraisal of the area of reproductive technologies and issues conducted in this state was the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction which reported in 2005 and whose findings have subsequently been sat upon by successive governments. And the findings of that report were strongly, overwhelmingly in fact, in support of surrogacy arrangements being introduced. In that context what is the nature of ‘balance’? She doesn’t represent, as best as can be judged, a mainstream view on these matters at least in regard to various stakeholders appointed by the state to examine the issue, but an outlier, and a very very marginal one at that.
And in both pieces on the issue she has remained silent about that report, perhaps because it is so profoundly inconvenient to her thesis.
What’s interesting though is how Iona itself will use cherry pick reports as they see fit. As one comment under the O’Brien article notes, their approach to gay marriage is a particularly revealing example of same. But so is their coverage on their website. Unlike O’Brien they actually mention the Commission for Assisted Human Reproduction:
The Government-appointed Commission for Assisted Human Reproduction recommended in 2005 that in surrogacy arrangements, the commissioning parents be deemed to be the legal parents. One of the members of the commission, Christine O’Rourke, expressed dissent about this recommendation, saying that “the risks of exploitation and commodifcation” accompanying surrogacy outweighed its benefits. Ms O’Rourke, Advisory Counsel to the Attorney General at the time, expressing her dissent in the CAHR’s report, recommended instead that surrogacy be prohibited. She said that there was “a broad cultural consensus that a woman who has just given birth may be uniquely vulnerable and the removal of her baby against her will is repugnant, unless she poses a threat of immediate harm to the child”. She added: “This social norm is reflected in Article 10(2) of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which obliges Contracting States to accord special protection to women who have just given birth.”
But even this is misleading. Let’s quote the CAHR Report again:
The majority of members were in favour of regulating surrogacy, and all members were strongly of the view
that commercialisation of the practice should not be permitted by the regulatory authority.
One member was strongly opposed to regulation and took the view that surrogacy ought to be prohibited.
Presenting the report in the way Iona does is to ignore the almost total agreement on the CAHR.
Does O’Brien represent a broader societal view? Perhaps, but we have no means of knowing how broad that view is in the absence of polling data (which I haven’t been able to find as of yet, though if it exists I’d be very grateful for links).
I’m not for a second denying O’Brien the right to represent her viewpoint or to promote this on RTÉ or wherever. Though in truth if she is getting four minute slots and newspaper column inches to do so she’s hardly in a marginalised position given the weighting we saw on the CAHR on the issue. Nor am I disputing that this is a difficult enough area which demands careful consideration – though I’m not antagonistic to surrogacy. What I am suggesting is that on this issue she protests too much and as I noted last week her shaping of her response to surrogacy is profoundly flawed.